Slovakia reaches agreement on European bailout fund

One day after a vote rejecting a beefed-up bailout fund to help contain Europe’s deepening debt crisis brought down the government in Slovakia, the country’s main political parties appeared to reach a compromise to approve the controversial measure later this week.

Wrangling over the fund’s approval has thrust tiny Slovakia, a former Eastern Bloc nation that adopted the euro in 2009, into the international spotlight. The bailout plan, largely drafted by far larger Germany and France, requires the approval of all 17 nations that share the euro before it can go into effect.

On Tuesday, Slovakia — the last euro-zone nation to consider the fund — became the only one of those countries to vote the measure down, largely because of the staunch opposition of one of the four parties in Prime Minister Iveta Radicova’s ruling coalition. Since the motion was tied to a vote of no confidence in the government, the rejection of the measure also brought down Radicova’s administration.

On Wednesday, however, opposition leader Robert Fico, head of the Smer-Social Democracy party, announced that he had struck a deal with the remnants of Radicova’s coalition, promising to back the fund in exchange for early elections that analysts say Fico’s party is well positioned to win.

The drama underscored the ironies of European governance, with stable Slovakia suddenly facing political upheaval over a bailout fund largely meant to aid French and German banks and wealthy, profligate neighbors such as Italy.

“Slovakia will ratify the E.U. bailout fund without any problems,” Fico told reporters in Bratislava, according to the Associated Press. “I believe it will happen on Friday this week at the latest.”

The deal followed intense pressure on Slovakia, one of the poorest nations in the euro zone, to pass the expanded, $588 billion fund.

“We call upon all parties in the Slovak parliament to rise above the positioning of short-term politics and seize the next occasion to ensure a swift adoption of the new agreement,” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a joint statement.

Slovakia’s approval, however, is unlikely to be enough to solve Europe’s problems. Although its sign-off would finally ratify the bailout fund that European leaders agreed to in July, analysts say that the dimensions of the crisis have multiplied dramatically since then.

Some say euro-zone nations may need to again alter the fund — asking for more and bigger contributions from member states, for example. Such a request could trigger yet another round of parliamentary approvals in the 17 euro-zone capitals, when opposition could potentially go beyond Bratislava.

The Slovak situation “highlights the problem of getting people together to respond to the crisis,” said Howard Archer, chief European economist for IHS Global Insight. Slovakia’s initial rejection of the fund, he said, is “symptomatic of the problems of coming together to get a coordinated, agreed solution.”

Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report.

Anthony Faiola is The Post's Berlin bureau chief. Faiola joined the Post in 1994, since then reporting for the paper from six continents and serving as bureau chief in Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York and London.
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